One in six adolescents have obesity, and I was part of that group for a long time in my life. I’m going to be completely honest when I say I’ve had a rocky relationship with food and exercise, and it’s taken up a large part of my work-life balance – more than it should. Personally, I feel like there was a lot of pressure, mainly from myself and from society, to get slimmer and ‘healthier’. Most of these people didn’t realise that they were saying pressuring me or making me feel insecure. Some of them said it because they had grown up in a generation where it was appropriate to say things bluntly, and others because I simply allowed them to by playing it off with humour and saying things like “I’m not fat – I’m very fat.”.
I vividly remember that dreaded day each year when my mom would have to drag me to the health clinic to get my annual checkup. Each year they said the same thing – along the lines of “you have to lose weight”. However, I found that I didn’t really want to put in the effort to lose weight until I motivated myself to do it. Throughout this experience, I looked back and realised two things:
1. Forcing people who have the same mindset as me to “get in shape” by insulting them or constantly reminding them that they are different from you doesn’t really help – I had to be self-motivated and want to improve myself for myself. Motivating yourself internally, also called intrinsic motivation, is also considered the long-term motivator, as explained by ‘Total Wellness’ blog (See References). This is because there is a stronger connection and you’re able to draw on that connection between yourself and your motivation easily.
2. Being healthy does not always mean losing weight and getting “slimmer”, and I’m really glad that this form of body-positivity has started to gain traction in the media, especially with people like Lizzo making headlines. It’s also important to note that methods such as the body mass index (or BMI), the primary tool most people use to measure health in terms of weight, is not accurate all of the time, as it doesn’t take into account bone mass or muscle mass, and as a result, you can be a completely healthy individual but be classified as “obese”.
In my experience, I didn’t view exercise as something that was fun, or something to look forward to, but rather something that was a pain to do. I found going to the gym mundane and questioned its use, and didn’t like doing weights, or doing cardio. The only thing motivating me to go were my friends. Throughout my years trying to become more “healthy”, I’ve realised the importance of exercise, especially for my well being, and I’ve actually started to enjoy it once I found the right sports and exercises that suited me – I much preferred swimming, yoga or dancing over running or hiking.
The MoveItHK campaign by MindHK states that exercise can reduce anxiety and stress, improve cognitive function and self esteem, reduce the risk of depression, as well as reduce the risks of several diseases while simultaneously improving sleep, bone strength, organ health and energy levels. And so, it’s essential we all get our exercise in, one way or another. It’s not about whether you’re healthy, unhealthy or whatever. Exercise is really, really important for you, and I’d encourage you to find exercises that fit what you like to do and can help you stay healthy especially as we’re spending more and more time at home.
I also really want to emphasise how although I’ve talked solely about food and exercise, it needs to be taken into context of everyday life. Make your exercise a habit that fits into your schedule, not something that is a burden and stops you from doing things like seeing your friends or doing your other hobbies. Make sure that when you eat food, you eat a good range of foods and nutrients to keep you energised and ready throughout the day. I know it might be hard, but these habits can set you up for success later on down the road.